AppCraver recently spoke with Eddie Wilson of Snow Reports who filled us in on his experiences developing apps for the iPhone and iPod touch.
1. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?
Eddie: Snow Reports is my first iPhone app, and I started working on it in late September. I’d never worked with Obj-C before (or any real OO language for that matter) so I purchased “cocoa programming for Mac OS X” by Hillegass, downloaded just about every sample code project that apple provided, and started chugging away. It was quite a steep hill and I think I rewrote the app a few times but I’m glad that its here.
2. What was the inspiration behind your app?
Eddie: My original intention was to develop a surf report application. I surf and I found it took a while to go through safari > bookmarks > forms > blegh so I started designing the app. I’m not a programmer by profession so I teamed up with a good friend, David Vogeleer, to develop the app. David is a snowboarder so we decided to do 2 apps; surf and snow. I designed the UI for both and started talking to data providers while David worked on the programming. At the same time, David’s career started moving at a fast pace and he was unable to commit time to the apps so he had to pull out very early on. While I was happy for him, that left me with some photoshop comps, a usage agreement for onthesnow.com’s data, but no functioning app and no one to develop it, hence my journey into learning Obj-C.
I was a bit overwhelmed and, as I mentioned, I had to rewrite most of the app numerous times. I recommend to any new developer that they spend at least one full night reading over the documentation to see what’s already available to them instead of spending time reinventing the wheel on their own. I know I did that a lot.
3. How did you settle on your price point for the app?
Eddie: When the app launched, there was a competing app that was priced at $5.99. I figured $1.99 looked pretty good up against that and Snow Reports had more features so it seemed like a good price. I haven’t had anyone complain about the price yet so it was a good choice. I think you need to be realistic with pricing (most apps only have a 10-30sec use case) but still quantify the work that you put into it.
4. Roughly how many units have you sold?
Eddie: The app has been on the market for 6 days and it’s approaching 1,500 units sold so I’m pretty please with the initial results. Yesterday it was in the top 100 for a brief time so I’m really excited about that. I’ve just started to get posts about the app on review sites and blogs so I think sales should keep improving and especially since we’ll be moving into the ski season soon.
5. How did you like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? is there anything missing?
Eddie: I really enjoyed working with them, but there are a few things that I think they need improvement on. First off, can we get color-coding to work 100% of the time in XCode! Also, and I quote my friend Jon Maddox here, "If your language requires me to use so many brackets then you definitely need to auto-complete them for me!"
6. Is your company venture backed?
Eddie: Nope, but I wouldn’t have been able to develop the app if it wasn’t for onthesnow.com’s data. That and a lot of late night sessions. Its hard to get things rolling when there isn’t any money on the table but in the end its worth it. Snow Reports get data from the #1 source for snow sports so its a key app, and OnTheSnow.com is able to enter the iPhone market with zero development costs or staff for support. Its a win-win all around. We’ve formed a really good relationship and there are definitely big updates planned for the near future.
7. What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?
Eddie: I’m really not an “app person” but there are a few that have managed to stay on my phone for longer than a day:
- Units, a conversion tool, which is always handy.
- Summizer is nice for searching Twitter trends.
- Remote, which has inspired me to finally setup my multi-room and outdoor speaker system now that I dont need to pay thousands for some receiver to control everything. I can just plug everything in airport express units and control it from the phone. Its perfect.
8. What kind of features should Apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?
Eddie: Well Snow Reports is not exactly the most complex app from a programatic standpoint so I had everything I could have needed. I do think they need to look at the whole provisions/beta testing/submission process and see where they can make improvements. I found myself counting on friends and blog posts more than the provided documentation when it came to launching my app.
9. What’s the development cycle for iPhone apps like?
Eddie: For Snow Reports it was pretty simple. I was familiar with the UI objects available in Cocoa Touch so I knew what I was working with and what I needed to invent on my own. I started with some quick sketches and then moved to photoshop comps. Sketching things out on paper first was key as apps have a “flow” and you definitely need to spend some time thinking about how your app should behave. A lot of Snow Reports’ UI is native so the photoshop work was quick. I got a couple of opinions from design associates and started on the programming.
Since I had to learn Obj-C as I went it definitely took longer than usual; about 2.5 weeks. If I went back and did it all over again 1.0 could have been done at least a week earlier. I knocked out the core functionality, got the app working 100% and then I went back in and got things behaving/looking just the way I wanted. Then a lot of added error checking was necessary since majority of the app is driven by dynamic data. I had to know when to let data requests run, which ones to queue, when the pause them and when to kill them so they didn’t conflict with others, say if you were on a slow connection and trying to do more than one thing at a time.
Once 1.0 was on the market I got lots of good feedback and submitted 1.1 with the key requests; inches and metric measurements, language support and I optimized some of the core code. To be honest 1.1 was more stressful than 1.0 because I already had it working! I tested 1.1 for a few days until I was sure that nothing I added conflicted with anything already there.
Oh and Git was key. Anyone working on an app without proper version control is playing with fire; Git or Subversions, which ever one you like best.
10. Are you working on any other apps that you will be releasing soon?
Eddie: I am in talks right now with a few data providers for my original app idea, Surf Reports, so you should see that one pretty soon (fingers crossed). I also have a couple of other ideas that I’m looking for data providers for. I’ve really enjoyed working on Snow Reports so I plan on doing quite a bit of cocoa development in the future!